The journal Pediatrics published a study yesterday that found children enrolled in Medicaid/CHIP programs face serious problems accessing dental care in Cook County. The study compared children enrolled in Medicaid/CHIP to children covered by private insurance. (See Reuters coverage of the study.)
Illinois State Dental Society (ISDS) and Chicago Dental Society (CDS) agree with the central finding of this study that there are disparities in access to dental care for children in Medicaid/CHIP.
The societies also agree with the study that a significant barrier to access for Medicaid patients is the low reimbursement rate for dental services. Illinois, in fact, has among the lowest funding rates in the nation for critical dental procedures.
ISDS and CDS also point to the crisis state of the dental safety net in Cook County as further complicating this issue. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, there are only 168 community-based dental clinics left operating in Illinois. That is just one dental clinic for every 8,400 children enrolled in Medicaid.
The Chicago Department of Public Health has shuttered nearly all its dental clinics in the city, while Cook County Department of Public Health closed half of its dental programs in the suburbs. The few suburban dental clinics remaining do not accept Medicaid/CHIP for dental care.
In light of these developments, ISDS and CDS have made access to care in the metro Chicago area a focus of their efforts. ISDS leads Bridge to Healthy Smiles, a coalition of oral health care advocates and community groups with a mission of bringing dental care to millions of low-income families throughout the state. A cornerstone of their efforts has been increasing Medicaid acceptance.
CDS has advocated at the county level to increase the dental services budget. These efforts have been rewarded with a promise from Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle to allocate $1 million to improving dental care access.
Both societies support dental clinics and community programs through the work of their foundations, the ISDS Foundation and the CDS Foundation.
Illinois State Dental Society counts more than 6,600 Illinois dentists and 1,000 dental hygienists as members. Through communication, education, and legislation, ISDS represents the dental profession and improving dental health across the state. ISDS is a state society of the American Dental Association.
Chicago Dental Society represents more than 4,000 dentists in the metro Chicago area, organizes the annual Midwinter Meeting, and advocates for improving oral health for all. The society is the largest local affiliate of the Illinois State Dental Society and the American Dental Association.
Please note: The study incorrectly states that any dentist can be reimbursed by Medicaid for providing emergency services to a Medicaid patient. Per the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, this is not true. Only dentists who have signed up to accept Medicaid patients may bill for services.
Last night, CBS 2 Chicago’s investigative reporter Dave Savini ran a segment on how dentists purportedly are over-treating their patients to make up for lost income in this tough economy. The basis for this claim was two patients who had complaints against their dentists, along with commentary from another dentist who said that he has personally noticed a surge in this unethical behavior.
The Chicago Dental Society, an association of 4,000 dentists in the metro Chicago area, considers this segment weak journalism. To stretch two people's negative experiences--without any supporting research--into a condemnation of an entire profession that is in fact dedicated to improving people’s health is sensationalism. The only takeaway message that CDS agrees with from this piece is that patients should seek a second opinion about treatment if they have concerns.
CDS encourages patients to find a dentist they are comfortable with and establish a trusting relationship. There are many personalities in the dental profession—patients should seek one that is match for their needs. A strong dentist-patient relationship is vital to maintaining good oral health.
Those who would like to weigh in on the piece can post comment on the CBS 2 Chicago website or at their Facebook page.
We're reposting this entry to the CDS Facebook page as well.